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Sunday, February 05, 2023

Gainesville holds candlelight vigil for Transgender Day of Remembrance

Several speakers, many of whom are transgender, discussed their experience

Karina A., TranQuility volunteer, lights a candle during a vigil for Transgender Day of Remembrance at Bo Diddley Plaza on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021.
Karina A., TranQuility volunteer, lights a candle during a vigil for Transgender Day of Remembrance at Bo Diddley Plaza on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021.

Gainesville commemorated victims of transphobic violence at a candlelight vigil for International Transgender Day of Remembrance Saturday.

About 40 people came together to remember those who had lost their lives to transphobic violence worldwide. The annual vigil at Bo Diddley Plaza was hosted by TranQuility, Unspoken Treasure Society, UF LGBTQ Affairs, Pride Community Center of North Central Florida and UF Pride Student Union.

The day of remembrance is observed Nov. 20. It was founded to remember Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was murdered in 1998. Hester’s death led to a movement to memorialize transgender victims of homicide around the world.

The vigil featured six guest speakers and a recitation of the names of more than 400 transgender murder victims since the last TDOR. The youngest victim was 13-years-old.

Paige Mahogany Parks, founder and executive director of the Jacksonville Transgender Awareness Project, spoke Saturday about how Black transgender people are especially subject to violence and discrimination.

“Black transgender women suffer the most,” Parks said. “When it comes to jobs, when it comes to health care, when it comes to education, when it comes to housing — we are always last for everything.”

Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe attended the event to issue a proclamation to officiate Nov. 20 as a day to honor people who have died due to violence toward transgender people. 

“On the one hand I feel so grateful to live in a city that honors and affirms ... our trans community,” Poe said. “But I’m also so incredibly heartbroken that once again we will stand here, and we will listen to names of the slain out of hatred, meaning that our task is not yet complete.”

TranQuility, a transgender community group in Gainesville, reached out to community members in Gainesville, especially the LGBTQ+ community, to attend the vigil.

Coach, president of TranQuility, described the organization as a safe space where transgender individuals can find a sense of community. TranQuility meetings have poetry and spoken word performances, music and other social events.

“When you realize you’re trans and find out that there are people that are like you and are trying to help you, it is a wonderful feeling,” Coach said. “It’s like thinking that you’re alone in the world and then finding out you have a huge family.”

Other community groups were also present to advise and provide resources for the attendees.

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Jianna D’Addario, president of UF Planned Parenthood Generation Action, spoke about the importance of understanding health disparities within the LGBTQ+ community. She mentioned how they’re often denied access to proper health care and medical treatment.

“There’s a need for support and resources for the queer communities on campus,” D’Addario said. “Really understanding the barriers that exist for the queer community is important to make sure that the liberation that they deserve is upcoming, especially in regards to health care.”

Liam Heindl, 27, said he was violently assaulted earlier this year and was scared to seek treatment at an emergency room because he was a transgender man who had previously been denied medical treatment.

“I ended up needing emergency surgery [after the assault] due to the blood loss,” Heindl said.

PFLAG, a national LGBTQ+ outreach organization, was also present at the event. PFLAG has programs that advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, recruits allies and provides counseling and support to families of LGBTQ+ people.

Elizabeth Husband, a volunteer with PFLAG, also spoke of proposed Florida legislation that would put more health barriers for the LGBTQ+ community. Husband spoke about the prejudice in HB 211, a bill that criminalizes gender-affirming surgeries for transgender youth. This bill will be proposed at the upcoming Florida legislative session in January.

Health care is not the only obstacle the transgender community faces. 

Katie Zeile, Florida Guardian ad Litem’s community outreach director, said LGBTQ+ youth, especially transgender youth, are overrepresented in homeless youth or those placed in the child welfare system.

Guardian ad Litem is a Florida organization that provides resources and legal aid to children who are removed from their caregivers due to abuse, neglect and abandonment. They work closely with LGBTQ+ youth to connect them with services for legal name changes, medical services, legal assistance and other resources.

The event concluded with an open mic, inviting the attendees to speak about their experiences.

Heindl addressed the transgender community with advice. 

“In the beginning it’s very rough, and the hardest thing is to not compare your journey to others. Transitioning is not an overnight miracle. It takes time. Have patience,” he said.

Erina Anwar is a contributing writer for The Alligator.

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Erina Anwar

Erina is a second-year journalism student and reports on East Gainesville for The Alligator. Originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Erina grew up in Fort Lauderdale and is excited to discover new stories in Gainesville. When she’s not writing, she enjoys exploring local restaurants and watching Korean dramas.

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